From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Those who consider the military always have a reason for joining. Whether to continue a family tradition of service, or to see the world, the decision is life changing.

“I remember growing up and seeing Nicaraguans killed, or jailed for protesting against the government. At that time it wasn’t a safe place to be,” said Staff Sgt. Orlando Alvarez, a parachute rigger assigned to the Group Support Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). “Deciding to leave was the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my life.”

“I also knew what I was leaving behind, in the end, it would be so I could have something more in the end. The U.S. military provided me the opportunity my country could not. If I had to do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat,” said Alvarez.


“When I left Nicaragua and inquired about joining the military, people said it would be hard and near impossible,” said Alvarez. “But, I didn’t give up.”

In 2013, while speaking very little English, Alvarez moved with his wife, Lucila, to the United States, and joined the Army.

His main reason for joining was to eventually be in a position to give back to the country that took him in as a refugee, while affording him freedoms that he enjoys today.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Orlando Alvarez, attached to 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), poses for a portrait on Fort Bliss, Texas, Nov. 19, 2018.

After five years of service in the U.S. Army and since being assigned to 7th SFG(A), Alvarez was promoted several times and attended a variety of military schools, to include the Special Operations Combative Program.

Although he joined later in life, his goal is to serve 20 years in the military and retire.

“You cannot be afraid to follow your dreams,” said Alvarez. “If I had let what people said discourage me from joining the military and coming to America, I don’t know where I would be today. I don’t even know if I would be alive. But, I am thankful for what the Army has afforded me, and I will continue to serve my country proudly.”

Alvarez’s journey from Nicaraguan refugee to U.S. soldier is his American dream. He plans to continue his life of service while setting an example for his children.

“This country has provided my family with many opportunities,” said Alvarez. “I am grateful for that, and I am willing to fight and protect it. One day, I hope my children will do the same.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Even more Russian ships are relying on tugs for breakdowns

In 2000, an explosion in the Russian submarine Kursk sent the vessel to the ocean floor, killing all 118 of its crew.

In the decade that followed, at least four fires broke out at Russian shipyards.

In 2009, Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov — which has been labeled one of the worst aircraft carriers in the world — lost a sailor when a fire broke out due to a short circuit.


And in 2016, the Kuznetsov cruised through the English channel belching black smoke on its way to the Mediterranean.

This series of accidents and problems leads to one inevitable conclusion: The Russian Navy has a maintenance problem.

Bryan Clark, senior fellow for the Center of Strategic and Budgetary Studies, said that when it comes to maintenance, “You can’t live on older ships. After 20 to 25 years, all you have is what’s left on the shelf.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

The Admiral Kuznetsov.

Though many of the incidents plagued their submarine force, even more telling than its history of catastrophes is the routine reliance on oceangoing tugs, which accompany its surface vessels on every deployment.

On Oct. 22, 2018, two Russian corvettes, a tanker, and a tug set sail for the North Atlantic.

Experts say Russia’s dependence on tugs is an indication of an aging, insufficient surface fleet.

While Russia can boast impressive littoral capabilities, for blue-water operations it leans heavily on its Cold War-era platforms, an influential naval expert said.

This is problematic for several reasons, according to Clark. Maintenance becomes more difficult as ships age, and as decades pass their parts become harder, if not impossible, to obtain. It is impossible, then, to manage the eventual breakdown of equipment, which results in a loss of redundancy for crucial systems.

This redundancy — secondary, tertiary and even quaternary systems — is what keeps ships afloat and ready to fight.

For the Russian Navy, the idea of tug as escort has become standard. For the rest of the world, Clark thinks there is a lesson to be learned.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia showed off a new ‘robotank’ in its Victory Day parade

In films and in comics, combat robots have caught our imaginations for years. Whether it’s the Terminator, Optimus Prime, or giant Gundams, robots with serious firepower draw big crowds to the box office. But such mechanical marvels haven’t yet emerged on the real battlefield.

That may soon change — at least for Russia, who recently demonstrated the Uran-9 unmanned ground combat vehicle (UGCV) at the 2018 Victory Day Parade on May 8.


Now, this vehicle isn’t some mech out of Robotech. According to Rosoboronexport’s website, this system is designed to provide “remote reconnaissance and fire support to combined arms, recon, and counter-terror units.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Since it doesn’t need to haul any crew or grunts, the Uran-9 is a very compact vehicle that can hide and ambush the enemy.

(Rosoboronexport)

The system consists of a control station, a truck, and two remote-controlled tankettes. It might not sound like much, but this small tank (it weighs about 11 tons) can punch way above its weight. In fact, its armament suite is comparable to some full-sized Russian infantry fighting vehicles.

The main weapon on the Uran-9 is a 30mm autocannon, similar to those used on the BMP-2, BTR-90, BTR-80A, and BMP-3 IFVs. It also carries four AT-9 Spiral 2 anti-tank missiles, six RPO thermobaric rockets, and a 7.62mm PKT machine gun.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

A look at the 30mm autocannon and two AT-9 Spiral 2 anti-tank missiles used on the Uran-9.

(Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The Uran-9 is a versatile system and can swap out and add weapons to better suit the mission. For example, it’s capable of using the SA-16/SA-18 man-portable, surface-to-air missiles for stronger anti-aircraft capability. While its diverse arsenal makes it very capable fighter, it also carries sensors and tracking gear to find the enemy.

The United States doesn’t have a similar system, but has used packbots and larger robots for clearing explosives and urban recon.

Learn more about this super-lethal, unmanned Russian tankette in the video below!

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 great Army-Navy mascot heists

There’s one Army-Navy Game tradition that might seem a bit surprising for institutions that preach honor, loyalty and dignity: the mascot heist. Somehow, over the decades, the ritual of stealing your opponent’s mascot has become a beloved prank that’s part of the rivalry’s tradition.

Army cadets seem to be more focused on stealing their generation’s version of Bill the Goat than Navy midshipmen are committed to mule theft. Of course, goats are much more compact creatures, something that makes them easier to transport and leaves far less of a mess to clean afterward.


To be fair, mascot pranks have a long history at our country’s elite colleges, though they didn’t surface at the service academies until after World War II because rank has its privileges. Even so, the academies signed a nonaggression pact in 1992 that supposedly put a stop to these shenanigans.

Here are 4 classic Army-Navy mascot heists

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

In 1953, Army cadets somehow thought they could corral a goat in a cardboard box.

(United States Military Academy Library)

1. 1953 — the tradition begins

West Point cadets used chloroform to gas Billy the Goat and spirit him away from Annapolis in the back of a convertible. After Bill’s return, Superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy told The New York Times that the goat had not, in fact, been “kid-naped” by the Army but had merely visited West Point as a guide for the “‘pathetic’ group of Army cadets who, like Yale’s ‘poor little sheep,’ had lost their way.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

2. 1965 — The Golden Fleece

West Point cadet Tom Carhart wrote an entire book called “The Golden Fleece: High-Risk Adventure at West Point” about the successful mission that he and five of his classmates pulled off in 1965. Sick of losing their goat, the Navy started keeping Bill on a naval base between appearances, a location with far greater security than the relatively open campus in Annapolis.

Dressed in black, the commandos cut through wire fences and completed their goat theft while their girlfriends distracted the Marine Corps guards with a story about being lost after getting stood up on a blind date.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

These modern-day mules are not the same ones stolen in 1991. But they may be related.

(U.S. Army)

3. 1991 — crimes committed in pursuit of a higher good

Navy midshipmen on a mission to steal West Point’s mules cut phone lines, tied up members of Army staff and went on the run from police. Facing felony charges, they instead got off with the “Order of the Mule,” a made-up award from the Navy commandant that declared their actions “in the highest traditions of the naval service.” Two of the raiders rose to become top leaders in the Navy SEALs.

Lead From The Front: An Army/Navy Short Film 2017 [4K]

www.youtube.com

4. 2018 — Lead From the Front

West Point commandant Brig. Gen. Steven Gilland got in on the action last year as the star of a 10-minute Army spirit video that celebrated the tradition and plays out like a Hollywood Heist movie. Gilland plays the role of airborne commando in an elaborate raid on Annapolis.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Baseball legend and World War II vet honored with new medal

Seaman Lawrence Eugene “Larry” Doby’s first realistic thought that they might give him a chance happened on the remote Pacific atoll of Ulithi, the Navy‘s staging base for the invasion of Okinawa during World War II.

A report on Armed Forces Radio announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers were going to sign UCLA football star and former Army lieutenant Jackie Robinson to a contract to play baseball in 1946.


If Robinson proved himself on Brooklyn’s Montreal farm team, if he could withstand the vicious taunts and shunning, he could make history as the first black major leaguer.

Brooklyn’s front office boss, Branch Rickey, believed Robinson would be ready to be called up to the big team in 1947 to break baseball’s unofficial color line, which relegated black ballplayers to the Negro Leagues.

Doby let himself think the door might open for him too. “All I wanted to do was play,” he later recalled.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Statue of Larry Doby outside of Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Navy, like everything else then, was segregated, but Doby was stunned to find that the color line extended to sports within the service, where he had to play on an all-black squad for base teams.

Doby was born in Camden, South Carolina, in 1923 but moved to be with his mother in Paterson, New Jersey, at age 14. Race was also a factor in New Jersey, but less so than in the South. At Paterson’s Eastside High School, Doby was a four-sport athlete.

When the Eastside football team won the state championship, Doby and his teammates were invited to play a school in Florida, but there was a condition: They couldn’t come with Doby. In solidarity with Doby, the team voted to reject the offer, and the game was never played.

Doby, 17, accepted a basketball scholarship to play at Long Island University in Brooklyn, but first, he played baseball that summer for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League under the assumed name “Larry Walker” to keep his amateur status.

It was there that he had a gruff introduction to playing baseball for money from the legendary Josh Gibson, the catcher for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays. Gibson was so legendary that within the Negro Leagues, the fans sometimes referred to Babe Ruth as the “white Josh Gibson.”

As Doby recalled, “My first time up, Josh said, ‘We’re going to find out if you can hit a fastball.’ I singled. Next time up, Josh said, ‘We’re going to find out if you can hit a curveball.’ I singled. Third time up, Josh said, ‘We’re going to find out how you do after you’re knocked down.’ I popped up the first time after they knocked me down. The second time, I singled.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Larry Doby in 1951.

Following his Navy stint, Doby rejoined the Newark Eagles in 1946 and had a stellar season, leading the team to the league championship. He attracted the attention of Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck, who had his own plan for breaking baseball’s color line.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson played his first game in the National League at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. On July 5, 1947, in Chicago against the White Sox, Doby pinch-hit to become the first black player in the American League.

Doby played little his first year but had a breakout in 1948, leading Cleveland to its second (and most recent) World Series championship. Over 13 seasons, he was a seven-time All Star, hit 253 home runs and had a batting average of .283.

In 1998, Doby was voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. He died in 2003 at age 79.

Recently, the Senate passed a joint bill to award Doby with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award alongside the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The citation directed “the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal in honor of Larry Doby, in recognition of his achievements and contributions to American major league athletics, civil rights, and the Armed Forces during World War II.”

“For too long, Larry Doby’s courageous contributions to American civil rights have been overlooked,” New Jersey Republican Rep. Bill Pascrell said. “Awarding him this medal from our national legislature will give his family and his legacy more well-deserved recognition for his heroism.”

The silent treatment, except for ‘Yogi’

Jackie Robinson had warned Doby that it was going to be tough, but the first game was still a shock to him.

He went around the clubhouse to say hello and shake hands with his Cleveland teammates. He later recalled that he mostly received “cold fish” handshakes, and four of his teammates refused to take his hand. Two of those turned their backs on him, he said.

He went on the field to warm up, but nobody would play catch with him until veteran second baseman Joe Gordon came over to toss a ball.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Larry Doby.

Doby also was a second baseman, but later in the season, again against Chicago, he was told he would start at first base. He was humiliated when Cleveland’s regular first baseman wouldn’t loan him a first baseman’s mitt. Gordon went into the Chicago clubhouse to borrow one for him.

In the off-season, Doby was told to work on outfield play. He became Cleveland’s centerfielder for his breakout season in 1948 and remained one for the rest of his career.

In addition to the opposition he faced within his own team, opposing players also would not talk to or associate with him — at first. But then came former Navy Gunner’s Mate Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra — the man, the catcher, for all seasons.

When Berra’s New York Yankees came to town to take on the surging Indians in 1948, the first chat between Berra and Doby made the front pages. Berra talked to everybody but on the field, the chatter had a dual purpose for Berra: he also wanted to distract the hitter. It didn’t take Doby long to catch on.

Doby told the umpire to tell Berra to shut up. Berra told the umpire that he was just trying to be friendly. The umpire told them both to shut up.

The next day’s papers showed photos of what appeared to be a dustup between the first black player in the American League and the famous Yankee. They would become best friends and laugh about it in later years.

“I felt very alone” in the first two years in the major leagues,” Doby later told The New York Daily News. “Nobody really talked to me. The guy who probably talked to me most back then was Yogi, every time I’d go to bat against the Yankees.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Statue of Hall of Famer Larry Doby in Cleveland.

He continued, “I thought that was real nice but, after a while, I got tired of him asking me how my family was when I was trying to concentrate up there.”

Berra later recalled with a laugh: “I know at least one time I didn’t interrupt his concentration. The time he hit that homer to center field in the old Yankee Stadium,” he said of Doby’s prodigious shot in the spacious ballpark.

When Doby died of cancer in 2003 at age 79, Berra said, “I lost my pal. I knew this was coming, but even so, you’re never ready for it. I’d call him, and he’d say he didn’t feel like talking, so I knew then it was bad.”

Things only veterans can share

Following his playing, managing and coaching days, Berra opened the Yogi Berra Museum Learning Center in Montclair, New Jersey, where Berra and Doby were neighbors.

After Doby’s death, Berra dedicated a wing of the museum to Larry Doby featuring memorabilia from his career and the Negro Leagues.

When Berra died at age 90 in 2015, then-President Barack Obama called him “an American original — a Hall of Famer and humble veteran, prolific jokester, and jovial prophet.”

“He epitomized what it meant to be a sportsman and a citizen, with a big heart, competitive spirit, and a selfless desire to open baseball to everyone, no matter their background,” Obama said.

No one knew that better than Doby. He also knew there were things that still haunted Berra from World War II that he could speak of only to another veteran.

At an American Veterans Center conference in Washington, D.C., in 2010, Berra hinted at what those things were.

He had been assigned as a gunner’s mate to what he called a “rocket boat,” a gunboat launched at the beachhead for the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy in World War II.

Berra recalled the big mistake his ship made as the invasion boats rumbled ashore.

“We had orders to shoot at anything that came below the clouds,” he said. They fired and downed the first plane they saw, which turned out to be an American aircraft. However, they managed to rescue the pilot.

“I never heard a man cuss so much,” Berra said. “We got him out of the plane but, boy, was he mad.”

He said, “It was like the 4th of July to see all them planes and ships out there. I stood up there on the deck of our boat” to watch. The officer told him to get down “before you get your head blown off.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Statue of Hall of Famer Larry Doby in Cleveland.

Berra was slightly wounded on D-Day but later declined being put in for a Purple Heart. He said he didn’t want his mother in St. Louis to find out and become upset.

Then, while speaking before the crowd of veterans, he grew emotional. “We picked up some of the people who got drowned,” he said. Then Berra, the non-stop talker, stopped talking.

Later, he told a reporter there were some things he would talk about only to his friend, Doby, and, as they both aged, they spoke nearly daily, either on the phone or in person. They hung out together at Berra’s house, or messed around in his garage, until Berra’s wife, Carmen, started finding things for them to do.

Then they headed to Doby’s house, until Doby’s wife, Helyn, also started finding things for them to do.Their last escape would be the local American Legion post to talk about baseball and the Navy, Berra recalled.

In the newest museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a photo of Doby is prominently displayed: it’s from the 1948 World Series when Cleveland beat the Boston Braves for the championship.

The photo shows Doby hugging Cleveland pitcher Steve Gromek. Doby had just hit a homer to give Gromek and Cleveland the winning margin in Game Three.

Doby told The New York Times, ”I hit a home run off Johnny Sain to help Steve Gromek win, and in the clubhouse, the photographers took a picture of Gromek and me hugging. That picture went all over the country. I think it was one of the first, if not the first, of a black guy and a white guy hugging, just happy because they won a ballgame.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Red Wings through the eyes of the Night Stalkers

The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.

Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.


Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.

As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.

The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.

The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.

As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.

“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”

As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.

He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.

“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”

Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.

“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.

There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.

“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”

The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.

When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.

It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.

At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.

“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”

Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.

Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”

“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”

They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.

At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.

Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.

“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”

With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.

Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.

“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”

But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”

Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.

The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.

Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.

“Are you serious?” Russell replied.

Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.

As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.

“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.

Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.

“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.

As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.

“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.

But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”

Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.

“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.

Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.

“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.

He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.

“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.

The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.

During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.

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Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.

That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.

Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.

“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.

Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.

Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.

One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.

Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.

“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.

Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”

Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.

The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.

“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”

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The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.

Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.

Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.

Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.

After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.

“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.

The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.

Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.

“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”

The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.

The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.

“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.

He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.

Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.

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Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.

As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.

Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.

Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.

As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.

The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.

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Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.

Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.

“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.

The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.

“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”

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Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.

One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.

As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.

“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.

When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.

“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.

Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.

The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:

Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare

Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature

Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby

Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles

Major Stephen C. Reich

Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell

Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach

Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III

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Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.

The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.

The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.

Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.

Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.

The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.

For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Budweiser will brew George Washington’s 1757 beer recipe

We need a batch of good news. A little hops in our step. Something to sip on that takes us to a different time. 1757 to be exact.

Budweiser has done it again. Making history. And this is just straight up awesome. Using the original recipe from George Washington’s handwritten notes found in a notebook from 1757 during the French and Indian War, Budweiser has crafted the next edition in their Reserve collection. Here is the page from the notebook:


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So cool! And it just gets better.

This limited edition Freedom Reserve Red Lager is brewed exclusively by veteran brewers who brew for Budweiser.

“We are incredibly proud of our Freedom Reserve Red Lager because it was passionately brewed by our veteran brewers who have bravely served our country,” Budweiser Vice President Ricardo Marques

Proceeds from the beer go to support Folds of Honor, whose mission is to provide scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and disabled service members.

America, ladies and gentlemen.

The 5.4 ABV lager is described as “a rich caramel malt taste and a smooth finish with a hint of molasses.”

Ok, fine, you’ve convinced me. OMW to get some right now. Hopefully you live close enough to snag up some of this speciality brew, too. Enter your zip code here to find out where you can buy it.

This 2018 Memorial Day, toast to the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our lives safely in our back yards with the peace of mind to sit and have a beer this weekend.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The evolution of military timepieces from pocket watches to Rolexes to G-Shocks

The year is 1945 and U.S. forces are taking back Philippine Islands from the Japanese.

Lt. Col. Henry Mucci and his 133 Rangers are staging a daring rescue of allied POWs at the Cabanatuan prison camp. Mucci checks his watch; it’s time. At 1700 hours on January 30, the Rangers step off from their staging area at Platero. At 1745 hours, they reach their checkpoint at the Pampanga River and split into the two elements for the impending raid.


At 1800 hours, a P-61 Black Widow takes off from Lingayen Field. At 1855 hours, the pilot cuts the engines over the prison camp, drops altitude, and restarts his engines to produce loud backfires and simulate a crippled plane. He circles the camp at low altitude, continuously cutting and restarting his engines and causing an aerial spectacle for the next 20 minutes. This distraction turns the attention of the Japanese soldiers skyward and allows the Rangers to crawl undetected through the low grass leading up to the camp and take their positions for the raid. At 1944 hours, Lt. John Murphy and his support by fire element open up on the Japanese guard towers with a murderous crescendo of gunfire that signals the start of the raid.

The raid at Cabanatuan is just one example of the necessity for precise timing and synchronization in military operations. Before the advent of timepieces, the rising of the sun often served as a method of synchronization, with attacks occurring at first light. Although pocket watches were becoming more popular and commonplace in the late 1800s, they were not standard-issue in the military. The history of U.S. Military watches begins in the trenches of WWI.

The British Army experimented with the idea of a wrist watch a few decades before WWI in the Boer War, but the need for a timepiece worn on the wrist became more apparent in the trenches. During the war, officers would often signal the start of a synchronized charge against an enemy trench with the blow of a whistle. The timing of these attacks was crucial, with some being miles long. Holding a whistle in one hand and a pistol in the other, fumbling with a pocket watch just wasn’t practical.

As a quick-fix solution, metal lugs were soldered on and leather or canvas straps were fashioned to convert a pocket watch to a wristwatch. Trench watches, as they were known, were generally made of chrome plate or solid silver to prevent rusting in the damp trenches. The crystals that covered the face of the watches were made of vulnerable glass. Officers with a bit more money would fit their watches with a protective metal cage called a shrapnel guard to prevent damage to the crystal.

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Three examples of trench watches with shrapnel guards (photo from hodinkee.com)

By America’s entry into the war in 1917, many doughboys headed for the western front were issued wristwatches. American watch companies like Waltham and Elgin provided the timepieces which were rushed into service. Because of the haste, only some of the watches were marked “ORD” (U.S. Ordnance).

The development of military wristwatches continued in the inter-war period. Following military specifications, Swiss manufacturer Longines released the A-7 pilot’s watch for the Army Air Corps. Though new technology allowed watches to be made smaller while maintaining high levels of accuracy, the A-7 was oversized and resembled a canted pocket watch. Designed to be worn on the outside of a flight jacket, the watch’s large size made it more legible for pilots who could check the time with a quick glance without having to remove their hands from the controls.

From Nicaraguan refugee to Army NCO

The A-7 featured a single-button chronograph integrated into the onion-shaped crown. (photo from wornandwound.com)

By WWII, the military wristwatch had evolved into something more recognizable today in the form of the “field watch.” The most notable of these was the A-11 (though this refers to a mil-spec production standard and not a specific model name). The Army required the watch to be water or dustproof, resistant to extreme temperatures, powered by a hacking (stoppable for synchronization) 15-jewel minimum movement (jewels are used to reduce friction on the gears of a mechanical watch) with a power reserve of 30-56 hours and accuracy of +/-30 seconds per day, and feature a black dial with white numerals and markings.

Though they were primarily issued to the Air Corps, A-11 watches also found themselves on wrists of infantry and other ground-based troops. American watch manufacturers Waltham, Elgin, and Bulova produced watches to A-11 specifications in such large quantities that it has been given the nickname “The Watch That Won The War”. Similar to A-11 specification, watches produced under the “Ordnance Department” specification utilized a sub-seconds register and were intended specifically for ground troops.

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An A-11 spec Bulova (photo by User STR via MWRFoum)

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An Ordnance Department spec Elgin (photo from emedals.com)

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By the Vietnam War, watches were becoming more specialized. Radioactive paint illuminated the hands and indices of a watch, allowing it to be read in the dark. Dive watches provided exceptional underwater performance at previously unheard of depths, and rotating bezels allowed for timing or the tracking of multiple time zones.

The MIL-W-3818 wrist watch specification saw minor changes throughout the war, but the general guidelines remained the same. Watches featured a parkerized stainless steel case, a black dial, white numerals and indices, hands with green luminescent paint, an acrylic crystal, and a 17-jewel movement with hacking, 36 hours of power reserve, and an accuracy of +/-30 seconds per day. Manufacturers Benrus, Hamilton, Marathon and Altus produced watches for the military under this specification.

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The Benrus DTU-2A/P was the first watch produced to MIL-W-3818B spec. (photo from 60clicks.com)

Increasingly, service members were buying their own watches from the PX for use in combat. The Glycine Airman was the first watch capable of tracking multiple time zones via a rotating 24-hour bezel. Because of this feature, it became immensely popular with pilots who crossed multiple time zones in a single day. This popularity extended to military pilots who famously purchased Airman watches from PX’s in Southeast Asia and wore them into combat.

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An unnamed captain returns from a sortie and gives a thumbs up with a Glycine Airman on his left wrist. (photo from wornandwound.com)

Although Rolex was not the luxury brand that it is today, the Swiss-made precision tool watches still came at a considerable cost in the 1960’s. On August 13, 1969, Army Specialist Alex P. Saunders purchased a Rolex Submariner 5513 from the PX at Quan Loi, Vietnam. Saunders paid 4.50 (id=”listicle-2646188536″,638.23 adjusted for inflation in 2020) which he recalls, “…was a whole month’s take home for a Buck Sergeant at the time.” The next day, Saunders went out on a mission with his 5-man MACV-SOG Recon Team.

Upon helicopter infil, Saunders and his team came under heavy enemy fire. “During things going on, I had my watch band popped off and I lost the Rolex for a while. I remember digging around in the brush looking for it while we were in contact,” Saunders recalls. “I also remember catching hell from the other guys in my unit. In retrospect, maybe I should have paid a little more attention to the bad guys and less to my investment in the Rolex. Years later, not so much.” Today, a Rolex Submariner 5513 sells for an average of ,000 with exceptional examples fetching as much as ,000.

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Saunders wearing his Rolex in Vietnam. (photo from QualityTyme.net)

These days, most service members are seen wearing personally bought Casio G-Shocks which are famous for their affordability and durability. The Suunto Core and GPS watches have also become increasingly popular with ground troops. However, many service members may be surprised to learn that the military still has mil-spec wristwatches available through the GSA Global Supply Catalog. Issued more commonly during the 1990’s, Marathon wristwatches are Swiss-made and can be purchased by unit supply clerks to be issued to formations. Of course, with the proliferation of affordable watches like G-Shocks and military budget limitations, these watches are rarely ordered and issued in the 21st century.

Since WWI, personal timekeeping has been a necessary function in the U.S. Military. Horological technology has evolved through the 20th century making accurate timekeeping available to the masses in the form of affordable, battery-powered quartz watches. Despite the more commonplace use of smartphones and smartwatches to tell the time, the humble wrist watch continues to be a mainstay in the formations of the U.S. Military. Just don’t expect that digital G-Shock you bought at the PX to be worth thousands of dollars in 50 years.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

6 outside activities for kids that don’t involve public places

Imagine a summer with no camps, no daycares, no pools, no libraries or open parks to take your kids to enjoy. No play-dates, sleepovers, theme parks or road trips. It’s just you and your kids. All day.

There’s no need to imagine because this is our reality. Summer came early. And it’s doubly intense for spouses who already have little to no relief because their service members are deployed.

On March 13, our country was declared to be in a National Emergency. The spread of the coronavirus has not only dictated our social interactions, but schools and public facilities shutting down as well have left us with no choice but to stay in with our families. But “in” doesn’t have to exactly mean IN the house. So don’t lose hope or think you have no choice but to go stir crazy.

Here are a few ways to get creative with your outdoor activities that don’t involve public places.


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Go for a cruise through the city

If you’re newly PCS’d to your area, this is a good chance to get a lay of the land. Load up the kids and take the scenic route around the city. You can turn the music up loud and roll down the windows to feel the breeze. Take turns choosing the songs, so everyone feels involved.

Make chalk drawings or games like hopscotch on your driveway

You may have to dig for it, but reach through all your crafting items to get the old faithful sidewalk chalk. You can have a different theme for your drawings each time or make it a free for all.

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Do some gardening/exploring

I have some stubborn weeds, but my kids love picking them with me. If you garden, spruce up the yard as a family. Or you can explore your yards perimeters. Have everyone walk around the edges and count how many steps it takes to complete the trek around your home. Water your plants or dig for worms. Get good and dirty together.

Have a picnic

Picnics seem so vintage right now. Make sandwiches, fruit or whatever you like and eat out on a blanket in the yard. Then lay back and bask in the sun! Don’t forget the SPF.

Neighborhood dance party from your driveways

Make a time with your neighbors close by and come out front. Play some music loud enough for them to enjoy as well, and boogie down. This is also a good icebreaker if you haven’t made friends yet.

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Contests

Everyone likes to win at something. Make the contest a hulahoop, jump rope, or basketball game, if you have a net. Or even four square. Choose a prize for the winner each day. For example, the winner gets to choose what’s for dinner, or what the family movie will be for that evening.

The key is to get some sun and fresh air. A bonus is to find something your kids enjoy that requires them to use A LOT of energy. This makes for a great nap time. And yes, we’ve reintroduced naps now that they are out of school. It keeps everyone sane!

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Arlington Cemetery will expand next year

For its second act of expansion, Arlington National Cemetery plans to grow southward onto property formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. Work there will begin in 2020, said the cemetery’s executive director.

Karen Durham-Aguilera spoke March 12, 2019, before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies. She told lawmakers the cemetery plans to break ground on the first phase of the project in 2020. She also thanked them for providing the appropriate funding to make it happen.


“With Congress’s support, the Defense Access Road project is fully funded with million and the Southern Expansion is partially funded with 9.1 million dollars no-year funding, toward a 0 million requirement,” she said.

Both projects, which include a plan to reroute Columbia Pike, which runs alongside the cemetery to the south; and a plan to develop reclaimed land and bring it up to the standards of the cemetery, are currently underway.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. James K. McCann)

The road project should finish by 2022, Durham-Aguilera said. The second phase of the project should begin in 2022, and complete in 2025.

“Southern Expansion will add 37 acres of burial space and extend the cemetery’s active life,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We will continue to provide quarterly report to Congress, outlining the progress of these important projects.”

To move forward on the project, Durham-Aguilera said the Army is working with Arlington County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration.

Other Progress

Durham-Aguilera also told lawmakers about additional projects that have either been completed at the cemetery, which are underway, or which are currently in the planning stages. Since 2013, she said, 70 infrastructure projects have been completed. Today, an additional 25 are underway.

“We have completed or are currently rebuilding more than eight miles of roadways, with approximately ten additional miles in planning or design,” she said. “We have replaced about one-third of the cemetery’s storm sewer lines … since 2013, we have replaced over 1,000 feet of sanitary line, typically, as an emergency repair. We plan to replace or rehabilitate an additional 5,000 feet to prevent further failures.”

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The Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Plan will add more space to ANC in a location near the existing Air Force Memorial and former Navy Annex. Plans include rerouting portions of the existing Columbia Pike.

(Army illustration)

In submitted testimony, Durham-Aguilera said the cemetery will also do work on its administrative building where families gather in advance of a funeral.

Eligibility criteria

In fiscal year 2018, ANC buried nearly 6,500 service members, veterans and eligible family members, Durham-Aguilera said. While the expansions will extend how long the cemetery can remain active, it will not be enough, she said.

“Expansion alone will not keep ANC open well into the future — defined as 150 years,” Durham-Aguilera said. “The [fiscal year 2019] National Defense Authorization Act requires the secretary of the Army, in consultation with the secretary of defense, by Sept. 30, 2019, to prescribe and establish revised criteria for interment that preserves ANC as an active burial ground. Evaluation of multiple options is ongoing to inform the secretary of the Army’s decision.”

To help inform that decision about eligibility criteria, Durham-Aguilera said, ANC has, among other things, conducted two public surveys of nearly 260,000 respondents and held meetings and listening sessions with key stakeholders — including more than 25 veteran and military service organizations.

“Arlington National Cemetery’s enduring mission is to represent the American people for the past, present and future generations by laying to rest those few who have served our nation with dignity and honor, while immersing guests in the cemetery’s living history,” Durham-Aguilera said. “We are committed to ensuring confident graveside accountability, our cemetery maintenance, our fiscal stewardship, and preserving the iconic look and feel of the cemetery.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

What you need to know about self-referral

The intent of a self-referral is to provide you with a means of intervening in the progression of alcohol abuse early enough for you to get help before a problem becomes more advanced and more difficult to resolve without the risk of disciplinary action.

Have you ever wondered what the self-referral process is like? This recently released video testimonial from the Keep What You’ve Earned Campaign (KWYE) shows the real-life story of one chief’s experience with seeking help. You can view the testimonial video, and more information is available on the NAAP website.


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Do you still have questions about the self-referral process? The following list answers some frequently asked questions about self-referral.

1. What exactly constitutes a self-referral? 

A self-referral is an event that is personally initiated by the member. A member may initiate the process by disclosing the nature and extent of their problem to one of the following personnel who is actively employed in their capacity as a qualified self-referral agent:
  1. Drug and Alcohol Programs Advisor (DAPA)
  2. Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, Officer- in-Charge, or Command Master Chief (CMDCM)/Chief of the Boat (COB)
  3. Navy Drug and Alcohol Counselor (or intern)
  4. Department of Defense medical personnel, including Licensed Independent Practitioner (LIP)
  5. Chaplain
  6. Fleet and Family Support Center Counselor

2. When should someone consider self-referring? 

A member should consider self-referring if they desire counseling and treatment to address potential, suspected, or actual alcohol abuse or misuse.

3. Is there anything that could make a self-referral invalid, in which case the member would not be shielded from disciplinary action?

To be valid, the self-referral must be made only to one of the qualified self-referral agents listed above; it must be made with the intent of acquiring treatment, should treatment be recommended as a result of the screening process; and there can be no credible evidence of the member’s involvement in an alcohol-related incident (ARI).

4. What do we mean by “non-disciplinary”?

This means that a member may not be disciplined merely for self-referring and participating in the resulting process of screening and treatment, if recommended. It does not mean that a member is necessarily shielded from the possible administrative consequences of treatment failure or the administrative or disciplinary consequences of refusing to participate in treatment recommended by the post-referral screening process.

5. Does making a self-referral count as an alcohol-related incident (ARI)? 

No. Self-referral provides the means of early intervention in the progression of alcohol abuse by which members can obtain help before a problem becomes more advanced and more difficult to resolve without risk of disciplinary action.

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A Sailor wave goodbye to loved ones on the pier while manning the rails as the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans)

6. What happens after someone makes a self-referral?

  • Command will complete DAPA screening package and OPNAV 5350/7 Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report (DAR).
  • Self-referrals shall be directed to the appropriate Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) for screening. Following screening, a medical officer or LIP will provide the member’s command with a written screening summary and treatment recommendation.
  • If treatment is recommend, the command will coordinate with the appropriate SARP facility based on availability, locality, and type of treatment needed.

7. Will other people know if I self-refer? 

Yes. The member’s chain of command, and others on a need-to-know basis, will be informed.

8. Will a self-referral mean that the Navy looks at other parts of my life/job performance? 

Alcohol use issues are complex, and evaluation and treatment require a holistic view. Relevant information on the member’s work and personal life may be required as part of the screening and treatment processes.

9. Can I re-enlist if I’ve self-referred? 

Yes.

10. What are the levels of alcohol treatment? 

  • Level 0.5 Early Intervention/Education Program
  • Level I Outpatient Treatment
  • Level II Intensive Outpatient/Partial Hospitalization (lOP)
  • Level III Inpatient Treatment

11. Will I lose my security clearance for self-referring? 

No. Your security clearance may be jeopardized if your post-referral screening recommends treatment and you subsequently refuse that treatment.

12. Where can I get further information on the self-referral policy? 

Refer to OPNAVINST 5350.4D for details and official policies. Questions may directed to the 21st Century Sailor Office, NAAP staff. Contact information is available at the NAAP website here.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

6 things geardos buy that are actually useful

No one wants to be labelled a “geardo.” They’re the person in the unit that spends way too much money to buy themselves things that are either not authorized for wear with the uniform or are redundant because the issued version is just as good.

It’s not inherently a bad thing to make yourself more prepared for combat, it’s more that people who buy extra crap are wasting their money to tack on useless crap that will do nothing but slow them down. Being fully decked out in mostly useless gear is also a telltale sign that the person has no idea what is actually used in combat — meaning they’re probably a POG.

All that being said, some of the crap they buy isn’t without merit. Sometimes, buying your own version of gear, something that was designed by someone other than the lowest bidder, helps plenty. The following pieces of gear are popular among geardos, but are actually useful.


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If you’re on a boring field op that you know won’t require you to fire your weapon, having a muzzle cap will make it so you can just immediately turn your weapon into the armorer, no problem.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Muzzle caps

A dumb geardo buys anything to look cool. Smart geardos, however, buy things that actually serve a tangible purpose. Take the muzzle cap, for instance. It costs all of seven bucks for a pack of five and it’s literally just a piece of plastic.

That insignificant-seeming muzzle cover makes sure that dust and sand don’t get inside your barrel. Typically, grunts clean their rifles more often than POGs, but making sure that you’re spending time cleaning just carbon out of the chamber instead of all the rest of the gunk makes life so much easier.

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They also make great unit shirts that everyone will actually want to wear… just saying.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech Sgt. Carlos J. Treviño)

Moisture-wicking shirts

If you’re sent to the desert, you’re going to sweat every minute of the day. Standard-issue undershirts are made of heavy cotton, which means they’re heavier, thicker, and hold all that nasty sweat.

Most Army regulations state the undershirt of your ACU top needs to be the same, “coyote tan” color. Thankfully, there’s a lot of wiggle room in the regulations and there are plenty of third-party options to pick from.

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They’re helpful, once you learn how to put the damn thing on.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Cayce Nevers)

Three-point rifle slings

When you’re deployed, you constantly need to have your assigned weapon on your person, POG or grunt. The single-strap sling that you’re given can get caught when you’re trying to get to the low-ready. The three-point sling makes things a lot more ergonomic and less of a hassle.

And then there’s the overly cool one-point slings that just tie around the buttstock. You’re going to drag your rifle through the dirt and mud with that thing — that’s entirely a geardo buy.

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You seriously don’t want to ever overdo it. Ounces make pounds, after all.

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

Store-bought magazine pouches

One of the defining traits of a geardo is the number of pouches they have on their kit or rucksack. As long as you don’t have more than your standard six plus one magazine pouches, no one will accuse you of being a Fobbit.

But if you swap out the six that the Army gave you with the store-bought varieties, you can use the extra magazine pouches to hold all the other crap, like those AAFES pogs that replaced coins. The M249 SAW drum pouch is actually extremely useful because it’s about the same size as a folded-up poncho.

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Whatever it takes to make you not go deaf.

(DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kitt Amaritnant)

High-speed ear pro

Tinnitus is a very serious problem. It’s a constant ringing in your ears that lasts for the rest of your life, and it seems to hit the military community in far greater numbers than the civilian world — for obvious reasons. It’s actually the number one disability among U.S. veterans.

The ear pro that your supply NCO tosses out barely works and is a pain in the ass to put in properly. If going out of your way to buy a good set of ear protection gets you to actually use them and not screw up your hearing, it’s a hundred-percent justified.

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Once you make the switch, it’s kinda hard to go back to regular boots.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Robert L. McIlrath)

Barely authorized boots

If there’s one piece of military gear that the Army keeps issuing out despite being complete garbage, it’s got to be the general-issue boots. They rip easily, they have no arch or heel support, and the soles wear out extremely quickly.

As long as you can find a pair that is within regulations for your branch and your command doesn’t seem to mind if you supply your own, these are a must.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why people think Area 51 has aliens

Area 51 is highly classified, mysterious Air Force base in Nevada. It’s been at the center of numerous conspiracy theories pertaining to aliens and UFOs.

Over 1 million people have responded to a Facebook event to “storm” the site. The event is supposed to take place on Sep. 20, 2019, with the end goal of getting the group to “see them aliens.”

The event is likely a joke, but it’s also led to memes. From spy planes to tourist attractions, here’s how the military base became associated with the theories.


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Area 51 is an active Air Force base in Nevada.

Very little is known about the highly classified, remote base, making it the perfect object of fascination and conspiracy.

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The extraterrestrial highway cuts through the desert near Area 51 but not into it. It is a tourist attraction.

It’s unclear why the base is even called Area 51.

According to the CIA, Area 51 is its map designation. But it begs the question — are there other “areas?”

As National Geographic notes, there are many other names for the base. One of those names, is Groom Lake, a reference to the dry lake near the base, while another is the sarcastic moniker Paradise Ranch. Its official site name is Watertown, but it’s sometimes referred to as Dreamland, after the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name.

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(Photo by Dustin Belt)

The base is not open to the public, but there are plenty of nearby tourist attractions that capitalize on its history.

The active base has high security 24 hours a day. This means if a person — or, say, 1 million — wanted to storm the base in an attempt to see aliens, it would be incredibly dangerous.

But, as Travel Nevada notes, there are several attractions around the state that have glommed on to the alien-theme, playing up the secrecy of the base, including the Extraterrestrial Highway. Stops along the highway include Hiko, Nevada, where you can visit the Alien Research Center and purchase ET Fresh Jerky, and Rachel, Nevada, which is considered the “UFO Capital of the World.”

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Area 51, from up above.

(Google Maps)

Until 2018, you couldn’t view satellite images of Area 51. Now you can.

The base is located relatively far off from any public roads. According to a 2017 Business Insider video, some Area 51 employees have to fly to work on personal planes out of the Las Vegas airport.

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A 1966 Central Intelligence Agency diagram of Area 51, found in an untitled, declassified paper.

The government won’t say what exactly goes on at the site.

It’s unclear what the base is used for these days. The secrecy has led to a great deal of public speculation and, in turn, conspiracy theories — especially those relating to aliens and space.

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The U-2 can fly higher than 60,000 feet.

We do know that it was used for military training during World War II.

The remote location was later used by the US government to test high-flying U-2 planes during the 1950s.

The base was used to build prototypes and run test flights for the vessels, which could reach higher altitudes than standard crafts of the time, as declassified documents would later reveal.

After the U-2 was implemented, the Air Force continued to use the base to test other aircraft, like the OXCART and F-117 Nighthawk.

But, at the time, the American public had no idea.

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The US government didn’t confirm that Area 51 was an Air Force base until 2013.

After the National Security Archive at George Washington University filed a Freedom of Information Act in 2005 about the U-2 spy plane program, the CIA was forced to declassify documents related to Area 51 in 2013.

In doing so, the CIA not only revealed that the military spent 20 years testing the aerial surveillance programs U-2 and OXCART, but also confirmed the existence of the Area 51 base.

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The area is also linked to conspiracy theories — mostly pertaining to aliens, space, and UFOs.

Although the supernatural theories have been debunked, the base is still associated with aliens and UFOs. Some of the excitement around the area have to do with the aircraft flying in, out, and around the base.

As a 2017 Business Insider video notes, there was an increase of supposed UFO sightings in the area in the 1950s — around the same time the U-2 planes were being tested. The secrecy of the program prohibited Air Force officials from publicly refuting the UFO claims at the time.

Jeffrey T. Richelson, the man who filed the FOIA that confirmed the existence of the base, explained this theory.

“There certainly was — as you would expect — no discussion of little green men here,” Richelson told The New York Times in 2013. “This is a history of the U-2. The only overlap is the discussion of the U-2 flights and UFO sightings, the fact that you had these high-flying aircraft in the air being the cause of some of the sightings.”

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Bob Lazar.

And then there are the rumors started in the 1980s by a man named Robert Lazar, who claimed to have worked near the base.

In an interview with reporter George Knapp from the time, he described working on propulsion systems for “nine flying saucers of extraterrestrial origin,” according to archival footage reviewed by Vice.

Lazar is also the subject of a documentary called “Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers,” which was released in December 2018. In the documentary, he goes into further details about his claims about what he alleges happened while he worked at Area 51 and what life has been like for him since.

Lazar’s claims may have cemented the base’s association with aliens and inspired others to come forward with stories and theories of their own.

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In the music video for the “Old Town Road” remix, Young Thug, Billy Rae Cyrus, Lil Nas X, and Mason Ramsey storm Area 51.

(Lil Nas X/YouTube)

The mysteries around Area 51 have prompted over 1 million people to come together to “storm” the base. The event is likely a joke — but it’s led to some really good memes.

The Facebook event titled, “ Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” has gone massively viral. The participants, according to the event’s description, hope to raid the active base and see aliens.

It’s likely a joke. The event comes from a Facebook group called “Shitposting cause im in shambles.” It’s even spawned its own meme cycle, complete with an “Old Town Road” music video, because why not?

But not everyone is so amused.

Namely, the Air Force.

“[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told the Washington Post. “The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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